“For your name’s sake,” Dinah murmured, ignoring the way her knees had begun to ache. “Amen.” Letting out her breath, she opened her eyes and looked about the room, feeling a sense of disquiet still within her soul. She had prayed for a long time and had read her prayer book also, and still no peace came to her.
Getting up slowly and wincing at the pain in her knees, Dinah waited until they had recovered themselves somewhat before wandering to the window, thinking that perhaps praying a little more might help her forget what she was feeling for Lord Whitehaven. He had been so cruel to her before, so unkind and unwelcoming, and yet now he appeared to be sorry for how he had treated her. He had said so, for he had apologized to her profusely, and she had accepted it without question. When he had come to the gardens, when they had spoken and when she had discovered herself wanting to tell him everything she had endured, she had found him so markedly changed that something within her had cried out for him. It had become so overwhelming that she had stepped into his arms without even thinking of it, wanting to be right there, wanting to be in his arms and praying that he would allow her to do so.
He had held her tightly and yet with such a gentleness that Dinah had felt as though she were a china ornament, delicate and yet liable to break. Lord Whitehaven had said nothing, simply holding her until she was ready to step away from him and continue her walk through the gardens with him by her side.
Except, he had needed to excuse himself. Oh, the ache in her heart as she had watched him leave, feeling as though there had been something tremendous between them, something wonderful that had not yet quite reached its fullness, only to be dashed away with every step he took away from her.
“Foolishness,” she muttered, rubbing her forehead with the back of her hand and perching on the windowsill for a moment or two, looking out into the darkness. It was nothing but foolishness to allow her heart to feel anything for Lord Whitehaven, for he was not the sort of gentleman she would ever be happy with. Yes, he had shown her that he could be kind and compassionate, but that did not mean that he would also give up his vices. She could not consider someone such as he.
And yet, her feelings were growing steadily, growing with a strength that frightened her. She found herself wanting to be in his company, wanting to be with him in whatever he did. Part of her longed to keep him from his vices so that he might discover an enjoyment that came without liquor and cards. She was certain there could be a happiness between them that would linger without the need to turn to gambling, to coarseness and frivolity that disregarded others entirely. Sighing heavily, Dinah closed her eyes and rubbed at her forehead again, feeling a slight ache beginning to develop just behind her eyes. It was Lord Whitehaven that continued to linger on her mind, continued to make her question what she knew and what she felt. Lord Whitehaven had two characters – one where he was quiet, compassionate, and caring, and another where he was loud, brash, selfish, and entirely inconsiderate. She could not understand him, could not make him out. Which character was he, truly? Did he simply turn to his vices to hide something from himself? Was it a way to forget how he felt about his limp, so that he would no longer feel inferior in his own mind?
“I do not know,” she murmured impatiently, getting up from the windowsill and wondering if she ought to change. They had been at a dinner earlier that evening, with Titania residing with them now, given that her husband had been forced to return to the estate to deal with a matter of business. He would return to London very soon, but for the moment, Titania was with them. Would she still be awake? Most likely, yes, for Titania had always said she did not like to retire early. Mayhap she would be in the library or the drawing room. Dinah considered that she might quite like some company, for whilst she had prayed and read, she still did not have the peace she had been searching for. It had not come to her as easily as she had thought it might, leaving her worrying about what was going on in her heart.
“My path does not seem to be as easily laid out as I had hoped,” she said to herself, picking up a shawl and throwing it over her shoulders as she walked towards the door. Her thought of becoming a nun, of going to a convent and leaving her worldly life still held appeal, yes, but Dinah knew she could not even consider it until her feelings for Lord Whitehaven left her entirely. Only then could she focus the entirety of her thoughts on God, as she would be expected to do.
“And as I want to do,” she said aloud, her voice bounding off the walls as she made her way to the library. The problem was, she realized, wincing a little, was that she was trying to convince herself that this was what she truly wanted when the truth was that she was not entirely sure herself.
A sudden exclamation and the sound of a door slamming hard against the w
all made her jump, her heart thundering furiously – only to see Titania hurrying towards her, although her eyes were fixed straight ahead as though she did not see Dinah.
“Titania?” Dinah asked, making Titania let out a little yelp of surprise. “Whatever is the matter?”
Titania hesitated, then shook her head. “It is nothing. It is not your concern, Dinah.”
Her curiosity piqued, Dinah put one hand on Titania’s arm. “Is something wrong?” she asked, a little concerned Lady Whitehaven was unwell or some such thing. “What can I do to help?”
Titania let out a long breath and shook her head, her expression set and angry. “It is nothing other than my foolish brother,” she stated firmly. “You need not worry, Dinah. I will be back shortly.”
“Back?” Dinah repeated, one hand at her heart as she let go of Titania’s arm. “You cannot mean to say that you are going out in search of him!”
Titania waved a hand. “Now is not the time for your comments regarding my lack of propriety, Dinah,” she said with a hint of frustration in her eyes. “My brother is, according to the servants who seem to know everything, being set upon by two gentlemen outside a particular establishment. I must go and fetch him.”
Dinah shook her head, her panic mounting with every second that passed. “You cannot go alone, Titania.”
“I have no choice,” Titania replied, shaking off Dinah’s restraining hand. “Mother is asleep, and I would not waken her for fear of what she would say or think over my brother’s lack of propriety.”
Dinah’s heart ached with a sudden sorrow over Lord Whitehaven’s behavior, wondering yet again how someone could appear so kind and compassionate all of a sudden, only to fall back into yet another vice.
“The carriage is being prepared,” Titania said, turning away from Dinah. “Pray, if you wish to help, have some hot coffee prepared and, mayhap, bandages and hot water.” She scurried away at once, evidently to dress and prepare for what she would need to take with her, leaving Dinah standing alone in the hallway.
Dinah’s mind was working furiously, telling her that she ought to do as Titania said and remain in the house. It was entirely improper for any young lady to go about London alone, and particularly not late at night! If the gossip mongers were to hear of what had occurred, then not only Lord Whitehaven but also Titania could be mocked and laughed at from behind gloved hands.
But if you go with her, then are you not also putting your own reputation in danger?
Closing her eyes, Dinah took in three long breaths and tried to find the same decisiveness that had once been such a part of her that she had never once questioned what she should do. Had this been a few months ago, then she would not even consider going with Titania, but now, now that Titania had pointed out her faults in being critical and judgmental about others and now that she knew full well that what she felt for Lord Whitehaven was a good deal more than she had ever expected, there was something in her that wanted her to go with Titania. She wanted to help. She wanted to be there to aid Lord Whitehaven, no matter what state he was in. Yes, she was disappointed and mayhap even sorrowful over his choices, but she could not linger on that. She would not remain in judgement on him any longer, especially not when he needed help.
Trembling just a little, Dinah lifted her chin and hurried towards the staircase, descending it quickly and thereafter giving rapid instructions to one of the maids. Then, before she could change her mind, she made her way to the front door and, seeing the butler open it for her, gave him a small, quick smile as though this was the confirmation she needed that she was doing the right thing.
“What do you think you are doing, Dinah?”
“I am coming with you,” Dinah replied calmly, as Titania stared at her in surprise. “Lord Whitehaven needs us, does he not?” She shrugged as though this was something Titania should have expected. “Besides which, accompanying you means that there is less opportunity for someone to question your reputation.”